Major cruise lines begin to drop mask requirements on US cruises

All three of the world’s largest cruise companies, Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, have dropped their mask requirements on cruises departing from US ports after March 1st.

Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, as well as their subsidiary lines, have changed their face mask rules for passengers from mandatory to recommended.

The change has also been adopted by Carnival-owned Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean-owned Celebrity Cruises, and Norwegian’s subsidiary brands, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Caribbean cruises are increasingly becoming mask-optional.

RELATED: Has the cruise industry turned the corner on COVID-19?

RELATED: Majority of lines opt-in to CDC’s voluntary COVID program

Even Virgin Voyages has indicated it will no longer be mandating face coverings, although it still encourages guests to wear them, particularly when indoors.

The move comes as COVID-19 cases begin to decline throughout the United States, while cases being reported aboard cruise ships have also dropped significantly, largely as a result of cruise line’s strict vaccination rules, and health and safety protocols.

Other major cruise lines sailing from US ports, such as MSC and Disney Cruise Line, have not yet indicated whether they will be dropping mask requirements.

The decrease in COVID-19 infections reported aboard cruise ships sailing from the US recently prompted the CDC to decrease its travel warning for cruise ships from Level 4 (very high risk) to Level 3 (high risk).

The CDC added, however, that people who have not received a booster shot should avoid cruising, which includes just over half the US population, according to CDC data.

These developments also come after the CDC ended its Conditional Sailing Order and replaced it with a voluntary program that retained many of the same health and safety features, but was not mandatory for cruise ships sailing from US ports.

Around 110 ships have joined the program, however, prompted in large-part by the CDC’s ship-rating system, which would have designated cruise ships not in the program as grey, creating a potential marketing headache for cruise lines.

The CDC’s updated ship-rating system takes booster shots into consideration, with three tiers regarding a ship’s level of vaccination.

“Not highly vaccinated” ships have less than 95% of passengers and 95% of crew fully vaccinated.

“Highly vaccinated” ships have at least 95% of passengers and 95% of crew fully vaccinated, but less than that percentage “up to date” with booster shots when applicable. Nearly all 110 ships sailing from the US fall into the category.

The “Vaccination Standard of Excellence,” is reserved for ships that have at least 95% of passengers and 95% of crew fully vaccinated and boosted when applicable.

While the program is technically voluntary for cruise ships, opting out would mean getting a “gray status” designation, indicating the CDC cannot confirm the ship’s Covid-19 public health measures. Consequently, 110 ships have opted into the program and none have opted out, according to the CDC’s dashboard.

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